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Sexual misconduct is an umbrella term for any misconduct of a sexual nature that is usually perpetrated against an individual without his or her consent or where the power dynamics of the relationship are being challenged in an effort to redefine the nature or form of consent necessary in a given circumstance. The alleged misconduct can be of various degree, such as exposure, assault, aggressive come ons, pleading, or even inattentiveness to nonverbal cues of discomfort.
In legal sense, for a person in a position of authority it includes in particular any sexual activity between him or her and one of his or her subordinates. This commonly includes teachers and their students, clergy and their congregants, doctors and their patients, and employers and their employees. While such activity is usually not explicitly illegal, it is often against professional ethical codes. For example, a teacher may be fired and a doctor may have his or her medical license revoked because of sexual misconduct. In addition, the person in the subordinate position may allege sexual harassment.
Entering a sexual relationship with a subordinate, even when the contact is initiated by the latter, is considered unethical by some because of the subordinate's vulnerability to the superior and the inequality of power that characterizes the relationship. In the case of the doctor-patient relationship, having a sexual relationship with the patient even after the professional relationship has concluded is considered problematic for the physician because of the potential for the patient's continuing dependence on and transference towards the physician. Therefore, sexual relationships with former patients are considered unethical by the medical profession when physicians “use or exploit the trust, knowledge, emotions or influence derived from the previous professional relationship” in any way. By contrast, legal ethics permit sexual relations with former client and, in California, with current clients as well so long as the sex is consensual and is not rendered in exchange for legal services.
Despite these opinions, others believe that sexual relations in workplace settings is not unethical including between boss and employee. Many companies do not prohibit so-called fraternization but instead recognize the difference between consensual dating and improper behavior.
A literature review of educator sexual misconduct published by the US Department of Education found that 9.6% of high school students have experienced some form of sexual misconduct  In 4% to 43% of cases, the abusers were women. Black, Hispanic, and Native American Indian children are at greatest risk for sexual abuse. Also at increased risk are children with disabilities; the reason for this may be their greater need for individual attention and their possible problems with communicating.
Children who have been victims of educator sexual misconduct usually have low self-esteem, and they are likely to develop suicidal ideation and depression. Because the abuser was a person the child was encouraged to trust, he or she may experience a sense of betrayal.
- Dictionary of Ethical and Legal Terms and Issues, by Len Sperry, 2007 – Routledge, pages 238-239.
- JAMA 1991.
- the actual 9.6% figure was for 8th-11th grades. Author Charol Shakeshaft extrapolated it to K-12th, which is questionable.
- West, Hatters-Friedman & Knoll 2010, pp. 9–10.
- Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (Nov 20, 1991). "Sexual misconduct in the practice of medicine". JAMA. American Medical Association. 266 (19): 2741–5. doi:10.1001/jama.266.19.2741.
- West, SG; Hatters-Friedman, S; Knoll, JL IV. (2010). "Lessons to learn: female educators who sexually abuse their students". Psychiatry Times. 27 (8): 9–10.